Ceisteanna - Questions

Legislative Programme

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the legislation his Department is planning to introduce. [31184/17]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [32319/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the legislation his Department is planning to introduce. [32517/17]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

87. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the Bills his Department is now working on. [32815/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 87 together.

My Department has responsibility for the National Economic and Social Council, or NESC, the statutory basis for which is as a body under the framework of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006. As that framework is no longer necessary, the Government has agreed that it should be dissolved with NESC itself placed on a statutory footing in its own right. That work is ongoing and is the only legislation being prepared in my Department. The proposals will be brought forward in due course.

NESC's role is to analyse and report on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. The council has a long record as the vehicle for multilateral dialogue among Government, employer, trade union and farming interests and, more recently, among community, voluntary and environmental interests as well as independent experts. Since the decision to place the council on a statutory footing was made, the policymaking landscape has continued to evolve and there are now other fora in which dialogue can take place. It is important to make sure we have the best arrangements in place for the council in order that it can continue to provide the highest quality research and advice to Government, especially as we want to reflect these in legislation.

A new NESC was appointed in May and has begun its work. The new restructured council is smaller and is adopting more flexible operating arrangements. The combination of analysis, consultation and engagement will be whatever is most appropriate for the policy issue being examined. The reconfigured council is continuing its work and the absence of specific legislation does not impede it in carrying out its mandate.

Having pursued the matter with the former Taoiseach, I am trying to get a view from the new Taoiseach on the role he sees for the National Economic and Social Council into the future. As the Taoiseach knows, there was a very long gap between the termination of the term of office of the previous incumbents and the appointment of a new council.

The Government's legislative programme lists the National Economic and Social Development Office (Amendment) Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny but we have yet to see the heads of that Bill. The National Economic and Social Development Office, NESDO, was established by the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006. The proposed Bill in the programme for Government would dissolve NESDO and place NESC on a statutory basis. What role does the Taoiseach see for NESC? Will the Government be proceeding with this? From what I heard in his reply, I presume the Government will be proceeding with legislation this year.

On a related Bill, last week I introduced the Genuine Progress Indicators and National Distributional Accounts Bill to change the way we measure social progress in this country so that we would not merely be looking at economic growth but social and environmental issues also. Does the Taoiseach see that as a role for NESC?

The Government has been understandably and correctly criticised for its poor legislative programme. There are many examples of this but I want to ask the Taoiseach about one specific area. Today, SafeIreland is holding a conference entitled "Understanding Coercive Control - Domestic Violence, Domination and the Defence of Liberty". It is to be addressed by Evan Stark, an American academic. Professor Stark has criticised the State's record for investigating and prosecuting domestic violence. He has previously pointed out that for every 100 reports of physical or sexual assault, only approximately two result in any kind of policing action. Almost nobody is receiving any significant custodial sentences. Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, the chair of the National Women's Council of Ireland, has also called for specialist training in and an understanding of coercive and controlling behaviour to be provided to first responders and judges who deal with issues of domestic violence. Today's conference will examine some of the legislation that this State needs to implement to meet our obligations under the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and the EU directive on victims' rights.

The Istanbul Convention was formally adopted by the Council of Europe on 7 April 2011 and entered into force almost three years ago on 1 August 2014. It took the Government another year to sign it on 5 November 2015. At the time, the Government also published 18 outstanding actions necessary to ratify the convention in the multi-annual action plan. It was intended that these would be delivered in the first quarter of 2018. One of the key actions is the enactment of a consolidated domestic violence Bill. As the Taoiseach knows, the purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and update the law. We have been waiting and waiting for this legislation and I am blue in the face, as are others, from raising this issue on the floor of the Dáil. Today I would like an answer as to when we will see the Bill. When will it complete its legislative journey and be signed into law?

Another shameful statistic has emerged in the utterly shameful record of this Government on the issue of housing and homelessness. We now top the league table in Europe for the proportion of women who are homeless. The number of women as a proportion of those who are homeless is 48%, which is approximately 10% higher than the next highest in Europe. This is shameful. I have looked at the draft National Risk Assessment - Overview of Strategic Risks that the Department of the Taoiseach has produced and, frankly, I understand why we are in this mess. This document was produced in the last couple of days. While there is a lot of commentary about how we got here and the failures of the market, in all of the prescriptions, in so far as there are any in the risk assessment, and there are very few, there is no mention of social housing: none. That is extraordinary given a collapse in the provision of social housing is the key reason we are in this mess. There is no mention of the need to increase the stock of social housing dramatically and for the State to do it when the market has so obviously failed. It is in that context that I am asking if the Taoiseach will consider, as I and others have asked before, moving legislation for a constitutional referendum on the right to housing. It needs to be established in our Constitution so that there is an obligation on the State to deliver the housing that we so urgently need to deal with the shameful situation that has emerged under Fine Gael's watch.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply on NESC. We are in dire need of proper strategic oversight of economic and social policy, in particular the connection between both, and I hope that a new legislative status for NESC would achieve that. I want to make a general reference to whether the Department of the Taoiseach is co-ordinating legislation across Government. It seems to me that this particular Government has been very slow in producing legislation. There has been a significant lack of it, particularly in the priority areas of housing and health where a major crisis is to be seen. The waiting lists and times in health are getting worse all of the time and, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, the homelessness question is getting progressively worse. We are at the bottom of the league table in terms of the number of women who are homeless - we are the worst - and children are in emergency accommodation.

There was an interesting article this morning in The Irish Times by Fintan O'Toole. I would not agree with everything he writes but he did draw an interesting contrast between the speed at which the Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill 2017 was rushed through the Dáil in two hours yet we were not in a position to prioritise other legislation. I thought we were going to go an extra week next week to consider legislation but it seems there was not enough material to keep us here. Notwithstanding some of the objections we had earlier about rushing some aspects of legislation this week, apparently there was not a whole lot of material to keep the House next week, and not until we come back on 20 September. There will be some commentary on that. The capacity of the Government to produce legislation seems to be an issue. Is there a draftsmanship issue? Have we enough draftspeople to draft legislation? On the education front, there are Bills that have been around for quite some time. The Technological Universities Bill is a classic one. We are now told it needs 80 amendments. That was nearly ready to be passed before the last general election.

The last general election was a year and a half ago and we are being told the Bill is nowhere near ready for introduction never mind completion. There is a real need to focus on what legislative output can be achieved. I am not just talking in terms of publishing Bills-----

If the Deputy wants the Taoiseach to respond, he will need to give him time.

-----but finishing and completing Bills.

I am sure the Deputy is aware of the purpose of the Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill. It will allow the State to provide a certain guarantee and to underwrite the finances of the Rugby World Cup bid. I can guarantee the House that if there was simple legislation that we could rush through the Dáil to eliminate waiting lists or homelessness we would do it. However, those are not problems that can be dealt with by legislation alone. To compare the Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill with complex problems such as homelessness or waiting lists is not to make a fair comparison.

I had a look at what is potentially going to get through the Houses of the Oireachtas this week and next week. There are nine Bills, including the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, the Mediation Bill, the Minerals Development Bill, the Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill, which was mentioned, the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill, the National Shared Services Office Bill, the Adoption (Amendment) Bill and the Independent Reporting Commission Bill as well as Deputy Browne's Mental Health (Amendment) Bill.

With the co-operation of the House ten Bills could be passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas by the end of next week, which would bring the total for this year so far to the high twenties. That does not reflect a Dáil that is not passing legislation. Potentially there could be 27 or 28 Bills enacted so far in 2017. The total was approximately 40 in many years in the past, but obviously if the Government had a majority it could get far more legislation through. However, it does not and the process of getting legislation through-----

That is not the issue. It is just that the Bills are not being produced.

-----is much slower than it would have been in the past.

The Domestic Violence Bill is being piloted by the Minister for Justice and Equality and it is priority legislation for the next session. We have already passed some legislation relating to domestic violence. A particularly important provision relates to temporary orders which ensure that it is the abuser who is ordered to leave the family home, thus allowing the person who is experiencing domestic violence to stay in the home. That is good legislation which is already in place.

I only had a cursory look at the Trinity College report, "Women's Homelessness in Europe", which was published this morning. What has gone largely unreported is that the report shows Ireland has one of the lowest rates of homelessness overall among EU member states. It shows that there is a gender gap, with men more likely to be homeless in Ireland than women. However, the gap between men and women in terms of the likelihood or prevalence of homelessness is narrower than in other countries. There is a big difference between male and female homelessness. The male homeless tend to be single men and often they are men who have mental health and addiction issues. Women tend to be in a different group and often have children. That is why the family hubs are being developed, to provide alternative accommodation to hotels, which nobody believes are suitable.

While the report the Deputy refers to might not discuss social housing, the Government's strategy on housing and homelessness does. The Rebuilding Ireland plan contains a commitment to increase our social housing stock by more than a third, reversing the policies of previous Governments, which were to sell our social housing stock. Instead, we intend to expand the social housing stock by more than a third in the coming years. Indeed, 1,600 social housing units are now in the process of planning and construction and only yesterday the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was in north Dublin handing out keys to families who have been provided with affordable accommodation. That is an example of the different things that are happening.

It is a drop in the ocean.

The role of the NESC, its role is to analyse and report to me, as Taoiseach, on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy, the achievement of social justice and the development of a strategic framework for the conduct of relations and the negotiation of agreements between the Government and the social partners. The 2006 Act provides for social partnership but that context has changed significantly from what it was in 2006. The work programme on which the council is working at present relates to housing policy and the challenge of affordability, the circular economy, natural capital and the requirements and implications of an effective infrastructure policy.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice reform last met. [31193/17]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice reform last met. [32102/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

The Cabinet committee on justice reform was established to provide political oversight of the delivery of commitments in the programme for a partnership Government to reform the policing, justice and legal systems and related issues.

The Cabinet committee last met on 7 March 2017.

The main focus of the Cabinet committee was the establishment of the independent Policing Authority to oversee the policing functions of An Garda Síochána and a number of related reforms, including strengthened powers for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and a programme of recruitment and investment in An Garda Síochána.

The Cabinet committee also oversaw the enactment of legislation to establish the Legal Services Regulatory Authority.

As I have previously indicated to the House, the Government has streamlined the Cabinet committee structures. Justice-related issues will now fall within the remit of Cabinet sub-committee B, which covers issues relating to justice, social policy and public services.

The Government is determined to ensure substantive reform of the policing and justice systems, both as a result of the work of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and in the short term through implementation of the existing Garda modernisation and renewal plan.

I am a little concerned that one Cabinet committee would try to cover a remit that includes all justice-related issues, public service issues, presumably including public service reform, which should not fall off the agenda, and social policy. The Taoiseach might reflect on that again. Policing reform is one of the most important issues facing our society. The implementation of the numerous recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate consumed a great deal of the time of the previous justice reform committee, of which I was a member. How does the Taoiseach envisage the implementation of the Garda Inspectorate reform proposals being accomplished and overseen? Second, I understand we will get a report in September from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland on the review of policing in Ireland, which is currently under way. What implementation mechanism does the Taoiseach envisage will be put in place at Government level to ensure that its recommendations become reality, rather than having yet another report on policing that simply is not implemented?

With regard to the change or reform of Cabinet committees, there are many questions about the strategy the Taoiseach has deployed. The Taoiseach said he wanted the committees to be more focused, but he has put many issues involving wide-ranging and diverse disciplines under one committee. As a result of his changes, the national anti-poverty strategy, public sector reform, the drugs strategy and the promotion of the Irish language will be dealt with by the same Cabinet committee. That is absurd and it will be difficult to achieve a focus in that committee. In my view, abolishing a sub-committee in an area such as justice reform is wrong. Every Cabinet committee had an associated senior officials group which met separately, and that is often where most of the detailed work got done. Now, effectively, there will be no dedicated interdepartmental group on nearly all issues. Perhaps the Taoiseach will explain how he believes the previous work that was undertaken by interdepartmental groups on specific topics will be continued.

Regarding the reform of policing and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, can the Taoiseach indicate when he expects an interim report or when the Minister for Justice and Equality will be able to make a presentation? The Taoiseach must accept that morale within An Garda Síochána is low. It was not helped last week by his comments. When court cases are concluded and other court cases relating to the same incident are about to take place we must avoid comment on the issues.

It raises questions for a garda today should another event or incident happen on the street. What will his or her response be-----

-----in terms of rushing to the defence of a person going about his or her business or a civilian whose freedom of movement is being curtailed? There is always a balance in these matters. I am not talking about imprisonment here but one's right to walk on the street and to go from A to B. I believe gardaí should vindicate that right-----

I remind Deputies to abide by the time limits.

-----but it often is not vindicated in the modern era. We must be very careful about cherry-picking various aspects of a case when we have not been in the court room for the length of the trial.

Some of us are very disciplined, Chairman.

Deputy Martin, you are a minute and a half over time.

It undermines morale even further, whether the Taoiseach accepts it or not.

The clock applies to all of us. The Taoiseach was right to acknowledge that there was something to be investigated given the outcome of the trial of the Jobstown defendants. I welcome that he did so. This is all in the public domain. The evidence was aired.

There was a flat contradiction between objective video evidence and statements made by three very senior gardaí. There were also other highly significant contradictions in evidence. When three senior gardaí make the same false statement, word for word, that is a crime if it turns out to be collusion. I hope Deputy Micheál Martin acknowledges, as the Taoiseach appears to have done, the seriousness of this matter, coming as it does on the back of the scandals about whistleblowers, 1 million false breath tests and 15,000 false convictions. I could go through a list but this is another instance of the same thing that needs to be investigated. In that context, I put it to the Taoiseach that the investigation cannot be conducted by the Garda. These are serious matters and the investigation must be done by people who will consider the evidence objectively.

Has the Taoiseach discussed the correspondence sent by the solicitor representing Cynthia Owen to the Minister for Justice and Equality? He will be aware of the terrible case involving an 11 year old girl who was raped and gave birth to a child that was subsequently murdered and who has made allegations against very senior gardaí. Ms Owen's solicitor has stated that the barrister from the independent review mechanism, the panel of barristers examining certain cases, who carried out the review of her case had previously represented one of the accused in the case. This gives rise to a serious conflict of interest. I ask the Taoiseach to examine this serious issue. Cynthia Owen is being denied the justice and investigation she is seeking in a context of a major conflict of interest on the part of the person who made the decision in her case.

The Taoiseach raised some legitimate concerns around the Jobstown trial in a fair and forthright manner. Will he set out for us how this matter should be resolved? What manner of investigation or review is required to establish whether, deliberately or otherwise, there was a misrepresentation of the facts to a court of law by members of An Garda Síochána? This is an incredibly important issue and, unlike Deputy Micheál Martin, I do not believe the Taoiseach was being unfair to anyone in making certain observations. He was simply making a statement of the blindingly apparent and it is also blindingly apparent that there must be a high-level response.

On another justice related matter, the Taoiseach also answered a question about a very strange and serious allegation that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, made a complaint to which the Garda responded by stopping an individual, since named in the press, at Dublin Airport and, it seems, asked or obliged this person to sign a statement on pain of not being allowed to catch a flight and exit the jurisdiction. The Taoiseach stated he had raised this matter with the Minister. It is very important that he makes a more substantive statement on this turn of events to set out the facts and the Minister's involvement in them.

Regarding Cabinet sub-committees, I am trying a new way of working. The previous system of Cabinet sub-committees sometimes worked well and sometimes did not work well. There were ten or 12 such sub-committees if I remember correctly, and when one included Ministers, Ministers of State and senior officials, between 30 and 40 people attended meetings on occasion. As I was not sure that system provided the necessary focus to get things done, I slimmed down the system to five sub-committees.

The Taoiseach expanded them.

The format in which people meet will depend on the issue. It will not be the case that everyone will be required to attend every sub-committee meeting. Some people will be required and others will be invited depending on the issues that are being dealt with. I am doing many more things bilaterally. I had a very long bilateral meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Secretary General last week and I will carry through a whole programme of bilateral meetings with Ministers through to the end of July.

More is also being done at the Cabinet table rather than at sub-committees. For example, we had two Cabinet meetings last week and we will also have two Cabinet meetings next week. More things are being done collectively by the whole Cabinet rather than having them delegated to sub-committees. This is just a different way of doing things and if it does not work out, we will review the position after six months and possibly change it. The important thing is not the structure but the outcomes. Let us see the outcomes.

Regarding Jobstown, I restate my view that I do not condone in any way the actions of the protestors in Jobstown. While no one was convicted, the scenes were ugly and violent. I was particularly struck by the moment when a vote was taken as to whether the two women should be detained all night. That was more like a scene from Lord of the Flies than a scene from a peaceful protest.

To respond to Deputy Micheál Martin, there is a world of difference between commenting on a trial that is over and one that is under way. As Head of Government, I believe there is legitimate concern about any failed prosecution, whether in the Jobstown case or the prosecution of Seán FitzPatrick, given the enormous amounts of taxpayers' money that go into prosecuting people and the time taken up by citizens serving on a jury and those who have to be part of the trial process in many different ways. When a prosecution fails there should, at the very least, be a review of the reasons it went wrong, and I am glad such a review is under way in both the cases to which I referred. If I had failed to call for such a review, Deputy Martin may have been the person calling for such review and asking why I was not supporting one.

That is not what the Taoiseach said. He should not be disingenuous.

I also want to state clearly that I am a big supporter of the Garda. Ireland is a very peaceful country with a very low level of crime, and part of the reason for that is that we have an unarmed, trusted and respected police force. These are not only words. Look at the actions the Government has taken. We restarted recruitment, which Fianna Fáil stopped when in government.

The previous Government restarted recruitment.

There are now 13,500 members of the Garda and the number will increase to 15,000 as part of the current programme. We will also increase the size of the Garda Reserve and double the number of civilians in the force. That is what we are doing to improve the Garda. We also have a €300 million plan for investment in information technology, buildings and vehicles in the Garda. The Government has also accepted the Labour Court recommendation on pay which will bring average pay levels in the Garda up to close to €70,000.

We have a bigger, better equipped and better remunerated force than we had two years ago, and in another two years it will be bigger again and even better equipped. Remuneration will also continue to improve. It is precisely because I support the Garda that I expect the highest standards. This means statistics, whether on breath tests or domestic violence, should be accurate, accounts should be managed properly-----

We have not yet been given an explanation for any of those matters.

-----public moneys should be used only for the purposes for which they are intended and prosecutions should be taken to the highest standard. It is because I support the Garda so much that I want the highest standards from the force and that is something I will communicate strongly to the Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice and Equality in my interactions with them.

What if a crime has been committed?

The time for this question has expired.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the foreign visits he plans to undertake during the remainder of 2017. [31240/17]

Political engagement with our European Union and international partners is important, especially as negotiations on Brexit proceed. I am, therefore, likely to have a number of overseas meetings during the second half of 2017. These will include two meetings of the European Council in Brussels scheduled for 19 and 20 October and 14 and 15 December. A number of other high-level informal EU summits are also planned, including one in Tallinn, Estonia. In addition, the British-Irish Council is scheduled to meet in Jersey in November. These meetings have all been confirmed and a significant number of other potential meetings and invitations are under consideration.

The Taoiseach might take the opportunity when he gets to his feet to answer my question about the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, her communications with An Garda Síochána and its subsequent actions regarding the individual whom I mentioned. The Taoiseach is familiar with the matter, given that he has answered questions on it in the public domain. Will he make a fuller statement, please?

Supplementary questions must be relevant to the specific question, Deputy.

Yes. This is a supplementary to an original question to which no answer was offered by the Taoiseach.

We are here to hold the Taoiseach to account and I want him to answer the question.

The Taoiseach's travel plans will be largely, if not exclusively, focused on the fact that the Brexit negotiations are officially under way. The British paper on the rights of EU citizens that was submitted several weeks ago fell spectacularly short of what might have been expected or required. We have raised with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade time and again the need to keep the North of Ireland in the customs union and the Single Market. I presume that the Taoiseach remains committed to those objectives. When might we see the Government's Brexit mitigation paper, which is overdue? It is a matter of some urgency that we have sight of it.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is next, followed by two more Deputies. We have 11 minutes left to give the Taoiseach a chance to respond.

Will the Taoiseach include Egypt on his itinerary of foreign visits? As the Taoiseach knows, the trial of Ibrahim Halawa has dragged out for more than four years. He has suffered terribly in that time. He is going through a laughable legal process under what is now just a tin-pot repressive dictatorship that is locking up en masse anyone in its own population who politically dissents against its brutal regime. The prosecution case against Ibrahim finally got going and ended at the weekend, but the Halawa family's fear is that the judges will be changed in September, given that Egypt changes its judges. If that happens, the whole process will return to the start and there will have been four wasted years. That cannot be allowed to happen.

I urge the Taoiseach to increase the Government's efforts by making a high-level visit to Egypt and insisting that our citizen be brought home. This sham legal process cannot continue. Ibrahim Halawa cannot stand much more time incarcerated in that country.

The Taoiseach seemed to say European Council meetings in Estonia and-----

Two in Brussels and one in Estonia.

And then a meeting with the President of the United States next March, which I believe was confirmed in the phone call. Is that right?

We have heard the list, but it does not seem to include any substantive bilateral meeting with European colleagues.

I have been asking the Taoiseach about this next matter for three weeks but he has consistently dodged the question. Why did he decide to change the entire ministerial team dealing with the EU and Brexit? The previous Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Minister of State had built up many bilateral contacts in the context of Brexit. What was the logic behind the decision to forgo all of those bilateral relationships and start again? Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the reports that he fired the former Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, simply because he did not support him during the leadership contest are wrong? The Deputy is on record as saying this. Surely the Taoiseach would not remove someone from such an important job for such a petty reason.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is looking nervous now.

I wonder where he is.

I would have thought that the explanation for replacing the entire Brexit team with a new one would be down to a major change in strategy that the Taoiseach had in mind. The former Taoiseach held many meetings with Heads of State and Government across Europe. Does the current Taoiseach intend to complete that work? In the context of the Brexit negotiations, does he have meetings lined up with other European leaders?

Regarding the notion of the Taoiseach having a discussion with the Egyptian authorities directly, the most impactful way of doing so would be by travelling to Egypt. As the Taoiseach knows, an all-party group met President el-Sisi, although I am not sure that it had any great effect. Neither am I sure that the Taoiseach meeting him would have any greater effect but we need to exhaust every avenue to protect a citizen of Ireland who has been incarcerated without trial for four years.

I wish to ask a further question on the Taoiseach's foreign travel. Would he consider visiting the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon to meet Syrians? Some 4,000 Syrians are coming to Ireland, some of whom have already arrived. Might we expand that number and will the Taoiseach avail of an opportunity to see on the ground the generosity of the people of Lebanon and Jordan, who have given shelter to a significant number of refugees within their own borders under considerable strain on their finances and resources, for example, water?

The meetings that I outlined - in Tallinn, in Brussels, in Jersey and in Washington - are those that are confirmed. There are, of course, others that are in planning but are not confirmed yet. I have had bilaterals already with Prime Minister May, Prime Minister Ratas, Prime Minister Muscat and Chancellor Merkel. I have met President Macron. As Deputy Micheál Martin will know from European Council meetings, they run over two days and we spend about 14 to 15 hours together. During the course of those meetings, one has an opportunity to meet with all prime ministers and presidents, so I have actually met every Head of State or Government in the EU at this stage and was able to do that over the course of the two days that I spent in Brussels. There are others that are planned but they are not confirmed yet. I certainly see the value in having as many bilateral meetings with other prime ministers as is possible.

In respect of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, I had a brief conversation with her about it. I understand that she made a complaint to the Garda with regard to harassment, and the Garda thought it sufficient to caution the individual against whom the complaint was made. Obviously, if Deputy McDonald has any further questions, she should put them to her directly. This is clearly a private matter. It is not one of public policy. It is one involving two individuals - one individual who felt that she was being harassed by another. The Garda, based on the evidence it saw, decided to take the action that it did.

On Egypt, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is currently in the Middle East. He is visiting Israel and Palestine at present. Consideration was given to adding Egypt to that visit but it was not possible to organise meetings at a sufficiently high level to make the meetings worthwhile. Deputy Howlin is quite right - there is little point in travelling to Egypt if one is not able to meet the people one needs to speak to. I know that the Ceann Comhairle and the delegation have been there and were able to secure some meetings. We are finding that a little bit difficult at the moment.

I did, at the request of Deputy McDonald, raise this issue with Prime Minister Tsipras, who again I met bilaterally when I was in Brussels recently. He was not aware of the case of Ibrahim Halawa, but he did agree to raise with President el-Sisi the case and also the issues relating to Greece allowing EU monitoring of the trial. That was done on foot of the request that I received in this forum.

As a Government, we want to do everything we can to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa. He was a 17 year old when he was arrested and has been detained without a full trial now for several years. I think that everyone believes that he should be released, if not on bail, then released entirely so that he can return to his family in Ireland.

I have had a meeting with the ambassador, Mr. Cole, who came over from Cairo to meet me to discuss the case, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has had several meetings about it as well. We are determined to do all that we can to assist in his release. We are also very conscious, though, that we do not want to do anything that might prove to be counterproductive. There is, of course, a risk of doing something that actually might make his situation worse and we need to be careful not to do that. My predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, spoke to President el-Sisi and also met him as well. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is seeking a conversation and meeting also with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Egypt. However, the Egyptian authorities are very much holding the line that they are not willing to intervene in a court process. While they may be able to do something when the trial is complete, they are not willing to do anything while the trial is under way, citing the separation of powers, which is often cited in this House as well.

We are not going to give up on our efforts. We will continue to explore all options and take any actions we can which will expedite his release but we must always be conscious not to do something which might be counterproductive.